Sunday, September 01, 2013

Toronto, Part 2: The Rest of It

I went to the Blue Jays/Yankees games in Toronto last Monday and Wednesday, while skipping Tuesday’s game (Ichiro didn’t play in that one anyhow), bringing the number of current stadiums I’ve attended a game at to 27. That leaves only Miami, Tampa Bay, and Wrigley, where in 2009 I sat in the stands during a long rain delay before the game was officially postponed, so that one doesn’t count.

These were the first MLB games I've seen on fake grass since the Mariners ended their run at the Kingdome in 1999. Rogers Centre (née SkyDome) is one of last of those circular, symmetrical, artificially turfed stadiums, though its retractable roof pointed to future stadium design. Besides the ballpark, I never liked the Jays either, mostly 'cause they began play the same season as the M's, 1977. In that time, Toronto has won two World Series titles, while the M’s have never even made it to the World Series. Also, the blue-blooded, all-American, flag-waving yahoo in me thinks it’s lame to have a major-league team outside the US... Here's Ichiro in centerfield, or what would roughly be the 20-yard-line if the field was situated for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts...

Still, Toronto loves the Jays, and there's apparently little interest in replacing their dumb stadium with something less bland and more up-to-date. For the record, the Jays beat the Yankees in both games I attended, 5-2 and 7-2, and Ichiro was 1-for-8 in the series.

Apart from baseball, I hit Toronto's hockey highlights, beginning with the Hockey Hall of Fame. The amount of jerseys, sticks, pucks, trophies and other memorabilia was overwhelming, but in a good way. Above is a closeup of the original Stanley Cup, with the etching "Seattle World's Champions Defeated Canadians 1917." Below is an old Seattle Metropolitans sweater...

Elsewhere, I walked around the newish Air Canada Centre and the old Maple Leaf Gardens, respectively the current and former homes of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The latter has since been converted into a smaller college hockey arena on an upper level (there was practice going on when I wandered inside), and a big grocery store on the main floor. On aisle 25, next to the cans of tuna, is a spot marking centre ice in its former days. Here it is, with my feet...

At the city's Reference Library I looked up some Evel Knievel-playing-hockey articles, and at various shops I picked up some hockey-related trinkets for friends (my own souvenir is a T-shirt with this sweet Penguins logo). The only bad hockey-related experience I had was at Wayne Gretzky’s sports bar -- the “Great One” burger (with a “99” seared onto the bun) tasted like a hockey puck, and the service sucked ass.

Far better was Shopsy’s and their killer corned beef sandwich, rivaled only by Dunn’s pastrami sandwich -- I call it a draw. Smoke’s Poutinerie had a food truck at Sunday's Riot Fest (see previous post), and I enjoyed their pulled pork poutine so much there that I had another one a few days later at one of their storefront locations. My pie at Pizza Pizza was so-so, and I never did make it to Don Cherry's Sports Grill. All along, I pretty much ate my own weight at various Tim Hortons -- I love that they have a Blue Jays donut...

Like I've experienced in other cities in recent years, Toronto also has a sensible public bike-rental kiosk system, here called Bixi. It got me around to lots of other places, like the CBC museum, The Beguiling (a comics shop where I picked up Adrian Tomine’s latest Optic Nerve), Honest Ed’s (a crazy discount emporium where I got some baby bibs) and Ella+Elliot (a high-end baby store where I got some little utensils). Here’s El Mocambo, where the Stones recorded side three of Love You Live in 1977.

As a lover of observation decks, I was stoked to go up the CN Tower, which until 2008 boasted the world's highest observation deck. At 1,467 feet, it's nearly two-and-a-half Space Needles tall! Aesthetically, the CN Tower has got nothing on the Needle, but even with some distant haze, the view was phenomenal (see the photo at the top of this post). Here’s a shot looking straight down at the Rogers Centre (with its roof closed, obviously)...

And here are my feet again, standing on a glass floor at the 1,122-foot level...

I hit one other observation deck on my trip, the Space Needle-esque Skylon Tower, 80 miles away in Niagara Falls (I rented a car that day). The falls themselves are impressive, despite the unchecked tackiness surrounding them -- myriad casinos, tourist traps, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville... Here's my token Niagara Falls shot...

While in town I visited an unofficial Evel Knievel Museum, where they have one of Evel's test Sky-Cycles, as well as lots of other motorcycle displays, Nazi stuff (!?!), and for some reason, a bunch of Dan Aykroyd memorabilia. There wasn’t much in the way of Evel’s personal possessions, just a bunch of mass-produced toys and photos and such, all fading under fluorescent lights. They didn't have my book, but they did have a shooting script of the movie based on my book, with my name on the cover...

So, Toronto. My lifetime experiences in Canada have mostly been limited to several trips to Vancouver and Victoria, so in my mind that's what Canada is supposed to "be like." Strangely, Toronto felt less like Canada to me and more like Chicago, in terms of size, scenery, and climate... Incidentally, on my way to T.O. (that’s what the locals call it!), I changed planes in Calgary, bringing my provinces-I’ve-visited count to three: I’ve been to British Columbia countless times, I made a quick spin through Windsor, Ontario in 2008, and now Alberta. Cool.
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